Gabby Young’s twisting roots have carried her and that stunning voice from her native Wiltshire around the UK to land with a bang at the centre of London’s music scene. The youngest ever recruit to the National Youth Choir at the age of 12, Gabby was on track to become an opera singer until Jeff Buckley and the jazz greats inspired her to switch teams. ‘My family was equestrian and sporty, but I liked being by myself – a bit of a recluse, really. Still, I did all the styles from goth to hippy to punk.’
Whilst still in her teens Gabby frequented open mic nights and played with a spectrum of bands before recording her first solo record in her bedroom before she turned 21. Gabby’s unique perspective of the world around her is inspired as much by imagination as real events, but when thyroid cancer threatened to take her classically trained voice at the age of 22, she got serious about recording her stories. Using her recovery time to pen her melodies, Gabby took in global influences to fuel her heartfelt emotion which shines through her beautifully haunting songs. ‘I feel blessed rather than afflicted,’ she says simply.
Gabby promoted gigs at and built up audience at the Ear Music nights at Monkey Chews, the infamous Kentish Town pub where she met drummer and guitarist (and beau) Stephen Ellis.In 2008 Gabby formed the 8-piece band who complete the magical musical fairground we know today, using a wide range of instruments, most notably trumpet, trombone, piano and clarinet. Young’s avant-garde fusion of globally-influenced folk combines Balkan brass, jazz and swing in an aural antiques shop from the future to produce what has been affectionately dubbed Circus Swing by those who realised there was no existing genre to encompass Young’s sound.
It was crowd-funding her first album that really put her on the map: Gabby started a “Become An Animal” page – which offered fans the chance to ‘invest’ in their favourite new band: for £12.50 you could become a ‘mole’ (T-shirt, gig ticket & album) , £25 a ‘bear’ (same + signed album, photos), £65 a tiger (all of above + meeting the band, personal video message, VIP tickets). The Evening Standard ran a story on it, and the piece was picked up across the board – with an interview even on Sky News. The album then topped both Amazon UK’s folk and rock download charts during June 2010 as part of the ‘Storm the Charts’ campaign. Positive coverage appeared in many of the UK’s major newspapers, including The Guardian, The Sunday Times and the London Evening Standard. The Guardian named the band in the list “Our anti-tips for 2010: the acts who deserve to be heard.’
Clearly not a case of style over substance but, like many a frontwoman before her, Gabby loves to play dress up – and as her double page spread in Artrocker magazine, titled “How to dress like Gabby Young” will attest, there are plenty of women out there who find her charismatic looks as inspiring as her music. Last year she set up Gabberdashery, a collective of creatives: artists, designers, milliners and other talented people selling there wares at gigs and events: ‘it’s important to support up and coming British designers,’ she says.
The band spent summer 2010 touring UK festivals, including Glastonbury. After headlining KOKO last October, Gabby was asked to headline and curate New Year’s Eve at the South Bank.
‘Touring and travelling the world has changed me as a writer: before gigs is often when the kernel of a song comes to me. Also meeting so many different people and experiencing their cultures has changed my outlook on life – especially in Japan, Australia and Germany.’
In 2012, with a list of accolades as long as a pair of stripy tights, Gabby Young And Other Animals, (otherwise known as the “World’s Finest Purveyors of Circus Swing” – Clive Anderson, Loose Ends, R4) released their new highly anticipated album, ‘The Band Called Out For More’, on 11th June in the UK.
Written by Gabby (and her partner Stephen Ellis, who also produces), this 13 track work represents a giant sonic step forward. Its colourful avant-garde sound, with lush orchestration, horns and quiet melodies, exudes the best bits of music hall, burlesque, 1920s flapper music, Nouvelle Vague cinema and torch songs. Indeed, Gabby comes across like Rufus Wainwright’s energetic younger sister – bred perhaps on a diet of Bjork, Imogen Heap, and Joanne Newsom – as she sets out winningly to reinvent her own genre, Circus Swing. ‘My sound’s matured,’ is all she’ll say. ‘I’ll admit that. I’ve honed my craft. I’m very happy and settled where I wasn’t before. ‘
Lead single ‘In Your Head’ (also out June 11) allows fans to connect with the upbeat party tempo of the first album. Its witty animated interactive promo video, in which you can ‘choose’ which animal to be saved from an evil ringmaster, was produced by Gabby’s friend Georgina Hurcombe (Lovelove Films). So is it all a metaphor for music industry? ‘Perhaps,’ sighs Gabby, with a smile.
Where the first album was more uniform in style, ‘The Band…’ cleverly juxtaposes both tempos and themes. ‘Goldfish Bowl’s jauntiness belies its feelings of ‘being trapped’ (‘one look takes me down a peg and breaks me’), whilst the catchy horn-infused ‘Walk Away’, Gabby’s first song written on piano, builds to a celebratory climax: ‘I woke up one morning at 6am,’ she says, ‘and this came out, lyrics and all, in 5 minutes. It was something I really needed to say to my Dad.’
The slower tracks stand out particularly. There’s The Answer’s In The Question’s incessant analysis of a relationship; the contemplative trumpet-tinged ‘Honey,’ Gabby’s personal favourite (another love song, but this time about the insecurities at the beginning); and, most impressively, ‘Male Version Of Me’, a quiet accordion-tinged paean to finding a soulmate, with touches of musical theatre and backing vocals from Gabby’s partner Stephen. ‘It’s about being yourself around someone so much that they start to feel like a part of you.’
But fear not, there are hoedown moments aplenty too: ‘Horatio’ is one such, pure and simple. ‘It was written a while ago for the first album but never made the cut, and now it’s bigger and better. It’s a favourite live, and a lot of fun to perform.’ Closing track ‘The Band Called Out For More’ marries Gabby’s music hall credentials with a barely repressed urge to morph into some crazed Edith Piaf. ‘I am so happy to have this on the album as it’s the opera side of me. It’s about someone who wouldn’t stop dancing – I know a few people with endless energy and I’m insanely jealous of them.’
And it’s worth rhapsodizing over the album’s two masterpieces: the first is ‘Segment’, which opens quietly before building into an almighty strings-charged Arcade Fire-style workout. ‘I wrote it whilst twiddling about with some shapes on the guitar; Stephen Ellis came up with the rest of the tune and the main riff – and turned my ditty into an epic.’
The second is the serpentine ‘Neither Beginning Nor The End’, a spine-tingling mid-tempo classic that opens with the lines: ‘I’m a grandfather clock. I slow down every day…’ It builds to a plea – ‘don’t let me down’ – complete with operatic flourishes, before an abrupt finish leaving the listener needing more. ‘After a period of writer’s block I started writing furiously. Some of my songs have meanings that not even I am clear about – and this is one of them. It has images of religion, things breaking, but I’m pretty sure that when I start playing this live I’ll discover its true meaning.’
Gabby smiles. ‘Indecision is a common thread in my songs and this title fits in rather nicely.’ It’s also an apt – if rather understated – phrase for where this big UK talent is in her career.
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